We have come to see the Owl Lady, and Jane, and my legs are rubbed red inside my wellington boots. I don't like Jane, who has buck teeth, and wears a dead fox around her shoulders, and is a year younger than I am but behaves as if she were two years older.
Down by the canal they live, in a darkened house under the elms. Past the gasworks with its puddles full of melted rainbows and silica sludge. The house has its back to the East and an impermanent circling halo of rooks.
The Owl Lady has thick glasses that make her eyes loom like palest blue globes. I dare not meet her gaze. The rook on her shoulder is called Bobby and he plucks the cigarette from her mouth and stuffs it under his wing before dropping it with an unseemly triumphalist caw. A cat decants itself from the shelf and tidies itself out of the door. Upon the table is a green velvet cloth with tassle fringing and a teapot with crazed pink roses. I swing my legs from the chair and count the distance between my shoes and the floor. I long to be outside with my brother who is under the dripping elms seeking Mayflies.
'Can I go to the toilet?'
'You'll need this.'
The Owl Lady hands me a rounders bat.
'It's for the owl,' she says 'but I doubt you'll need it.'
The toilet is down the cellar steps, which we call the cat-steps because they glitter with the mica of old coal dust. A dead rat is as flat as an old sock in the corner.
Everything about this day terrifies me.